Eva Marloes

The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense – A Review by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

“It’s Alice with a ‘y’,” (Alys) says the protagonist of The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense to a puzzled Caterpillar and an equally puzzled audience. It’s Welsh. The ‘welshified’ Alice in Wonderland, written by Hefin Robinson, is a funny and song-filled piece for the pleasure of children. 

Odyssey, Hijinx Community Theatre Group, manages to delight its audience, and not just the children in the audience, in their Christmas production. It begins with Alys glued to her phone and being reminded, together with the audience, to switch it off. It’s time for her birthday party. Curious Muchness is very much a party with a large cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and Woodlands High School parading and singing on stage. The piece seeks to tap into contemporary life: the White Rabbit looks for a ‘clever watch’ (smart watch), the Caterpillar is a celebrity singer, a lost Alys gets told to check Googlemaps to find her way home, and three former Queen’s servants demand their jobs back.  

Curious Muchness is at its best when it plays with Cardiff’s weather and the Welsh language. It is unpretentious light fun for a very young audience. It is the perfect production for the ‘jolly season’. It is Alice in Wonderland with no darkness. The lack of darkness takes away the suspense and the emotional arch. It also poses the question of what is appropriate for children. Should fear really have no place in children’s entertainment? The fantastical theatre (and film) of today is too often an escape into an unthreatening and joyful world. Curious Muchness is no exception. As a child, my favourite scene of Disney’s Snow White was the transformation of the beautiful Queen into a terrifying witch. The darkness of folk stories is not just to scare, but to let us travel safely into the unknown. Dark stories are a journey into our unconscious, filled with fears, dangers, and dreams, made safe by knowing that it is only our imagination, a shared dream, that is always resolved at the end by going back to our conscious state. We go back with a deeper sense of who we are.  

Rambert2 – a review by eva marloes

Rambert2 is a spectacular and charged performance with dancers of incredible physicality,
elasticity, and vigour. I believe they earned the standing ovation; less so the choreographers.
Rambert2 is made of three pieces, of which Sin, choreographed by Damien Jalet and Sidi
Larbi Cherkaoui, is the most striking and beautiful. Sin is sandwiched between a
disappointing and dated piece with a scifi flavour and an explosive but crowded and uneven
piece at the end.

The first piece opens with dancers in space-like suit playing an impossible game of words.
The theatrical side is quickly ditched and left unresolved to move to fun and rhythm. It lacks
a journey, cohesiveness, and beauty. The final piece brims with colour and movement. It
shows off the dancers’ agility, strength, and smoothness. They also show skill and
coordination in working a rather limited stage. Sin is simply mesmerising. It is a gripping
duet capturing the conflictual nature of desire, the life force of eroticism, and annihilation. It
is beautiful and beautifully executed.

Rambert2 is a bonfire of energy with uneven pieces. Its main weakness lies in being too
concerned with effect. It is ‘stagy’ with an expert use of music, lights, and showing off talent.
It wants to entertain the audience and overall it succeeds. Yet, it does so by relinquishing the
poetry that is present in Sin and at the beginning of the final piece.

Rambert2 was part of Cardiff Dance Festival, performed at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

(First Published on Groundwork Pro and Cardiff Dance Festival)

The Gift Of Dance – A Comment On Fearghus Ó Conchúir’s Workshop by Eva Marloes

The highlight of the Dance Festival, for me, has been the workshop offered by Fearghus Ó Conchùir, Artistic Director of the National Dance Company Wales (NDCW). It was not only an opportunity for those like me, without dance training, to participate, but also a personal gift from an experienced and professional dancer to whoever wanted to be part of it. The workshop was open to all, with no financial or skills barrier, and it was led by Fearghus with an open attitude, making no impositions.

We began with some basic ballet moves. My lack of dance training meant that movements were like foreign words which I stumbled to pronounce. The repetition at the beginning helped me fix the plies that, judging by my aching legs, I used throughout the day.

After the initial ‘structured’ session, Fearghus told us that we would do ‘contact improv’ in couples and in group, an announcement which was met by a terrified expression on my face. Being used to intellectual work alone, having to focus on the body and make sense of it with others is daunting. In the dancing space, I can only express myself through my body. There is nowhere to hide.

I have done some ‘contact work’ before. This time, we began as couples where one touched the other’s body gently, while the other became attentive to their own body and then responded to the touch. A simple touch, an attentiveness to one’s body, and a response to touch formed the essential elements of our dance for the day. I quickly found myself in duets and in group in synergy with others without effort, so much that asked to improvise alone, I complain that I lost my partner.

The togetherness that Fearghus wanted us to explore requires listening to one another’s bodies and being in dialogue with one another. It is not achieved by putting aside differences, rather by working with them. Perhaps the most interesting exercise was one of imitation. We were all asked to dance a solo for one (very long) minute while observed by the rest of the group, who in turn had to replicate something of our movement.

Like impressionists, we tried to imitate, but soon became interpreters with our own bodies. We tried to extract the essence of a person’s movements and recreate it, but this process of analysis and reproduction soon became one of interpretation. Other people’s movements sat differently in our bodies. It was a beautiful exercise in discovering the other as well as oneself.

Outside competitions and professional performances, dance is a gift of one’s way of expressing oneself through movement. It makes one vulnerable. It makes one risk judgment and rejection; yet all giving is thus. A soulful gift is the giving of oneself with no expectation of reciprocity.

Tir Cyfreddin/Shared Ground Workshop was part of Cardiff Dance Festival.

(This article was first published on Groundwork Pro Blog)

Review Rosalind Crisp’s Unwrapping d_a_n_s_E – by Eva Marloes

It is danse, not dance, because it was in France where Rosalind Crisp realised what she needed to do next. She needed to challenge all the moves and positions that controlled her body after years of ballet and dance training. The one-woman performance begins with a video of Crisp. She moves incessantly. She is a puppet rebelling against her puppeteer. There is an energy inside in search of escape into a movement. That elusive movement is constrained by habits and training. It’s like watching someone running in different directions looking for a way out of a labyrinth.

By the side of the screen Crisp begins to move. A light is shone upon her. There is no music, no sounds, only her breath. Her constant focused movement is gripping. You can’t stop watching her. She begins to talk to the audience. “Sorry I can’t speak Welsh. I’m stuck with English, French, and dance,” she says, “The problem with dance is that,” she whispers, “people don’t understand it.” 

What at first might have felt a terribly serious performance turns into a warm and humorous connection with the audience. Crisp tells us about dance and we respond laughing, smiling, and watching her every move. Her self-irony makes her work true and accessible. There is not an ounce of pretension.

Crisp rocks. Literally. She dances to rock music and then tells us that she stopped doing that because it makes you thirsty and there’s lack of water in Australia. Crisp is striking for her earnestness and deep levity. She is deep, just not serious. She is also poetic in how she describes movements wanting to elope with dancers and the dancer being seduced by the promise of being carried away. She ends with a video of herself on a mound of earth and dead vegetation to be witness to the devastation of the bushes in Australia due to deforestation. Her body cries the loss of life. 

La grande dame of dance, France awarded her the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Dame of the Arts), is funny with no histrionics, gripping with no artifice, and weird, beautifully so. 

Dance is a Work of Love – An Interview with Rosalind Crisp by Eva Marloes

I meet Rosalind Crisp in the upstairs theatre at Chapter. ‘This is my space,’ she says. She takes long strides and almost dances to get to her bag. She asks me whether I’m a dancer and looks a little disappointed when I tell her that I’m not. I tell her that I’ve been started to write about dance recently and have fallen in love with it. ‘With a dancer?’ she asks. ‘No, with dance.’ She looks surprised and bemused. She ponders where to have the interview and some lunch. She thinks the café downstairs might be too noisy for my recorder. I tell her that she needs to eat. I feel I’m taking her away from her safe haven to plunge her into the midst of eaters and drinkers, and a film crew filming just outside the café.

Crisp is one of the foremost choreographers in contemporary dance worldwide. In 2015, she was awarded the highest recognition in France as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres; yet she is unassuming, kind, and generous. She gives me her time freely and doesn’t mind when my questions become an interrogation. She takes time to explain her aesthetics and idea of dancing without a hint of pride.

Crisp recounts her journey as dancer and choreographer and says, “Some time ago there was a shift, I think it’s when I started working on my own. … In the beginning it was catching the movements and later it was about the way I was producing the movements which has led to my work of the last 15 years.’ 

Crisp’s radical approach is a close observation of where the body wants to go, the patterns established by years of training and habits, the ‘history,’ as she calls it, of the training that dancers have and that stops them from being aware of where the movement comes from and making different choices. She says, “I suppose I noticed with dancers that if they do things unquestioned that doesn’t interest me, … I would call it the history stuck with them. They haven’t questioned it in that moment. It has more power over them than the present moment because they’re forgetting. They do that and don’t realise that it’s actually just their history speaking,” she laughs.

Crisp’s idea of unlearning dance is a gaining of awareness of movement. She says, “I got very interested in what happens before a movement, what happened after I moved … how actually not do the dancing that I thought was dancing in order to open up a bigger view of what it might be.” 

The awareness she seeks takes many years of rigorous training to develop. She says, “I have the same dancers for years and years. … I never say ‘do this or that,’ they’re so deeply in the work. They’re so amazing. They learn so thoroughly to dive into someone’s work. … It amazes me. They’re incredible. They bring so much. They bring this enormous commitment to go wherever I wanna go. … They do it in their own way. It’s given back to me other flavours of the work. … They’re not trying to get it, they’re taking it where it needs to go.” 

Crisp’s openness is to the audience too. In undoing dance, she also wants to undo performance. She seeks a connection with the audience by going beyond showing a piece. She reaches out to her audience. She says, “I call it withness. A lot of dancing is being on your own, in your own world, with your eyes shut in the studio, then there’s an audience and it’s a whole other thing. It needs a lot of practice to develop that. It took me a long time to learn how to be with an audience and not just present something for them or at them. … I really love being with the audience. … it’s kind of melting that distance between us.” 

I ask her how she connects with the audience. She says, “I just want them to be so involved that there’s nowhere else … I really want them to be completely gripped. Otherwise why do it? It’s gotta be better than television.”

I say that it can be hard to be gripped without narrative. In most TV being gripped is waiting to see what happens next. It’s manipulative. 

She says, “I think theatre is very manipulative. I’m completely manipulating the audience. Totally. But I hope you don’t feel manipulated. I hope you just get engaged. It’s because, it’s a lot of trickery, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot generosity, it’s a lot of skill, it’s a lot of surprises to get an audience really involved.”

I say, “Generosity is not manipulation.”

She says, “It’s still manipulative, it’s still a job to get you engaged.” 

I say, “You’re still true to something.”

She says, “Yes, I’m true to my job of getting you engaged. I want them to get involved in every moment, so much that I’ll do anything to get you involved.”

I say, “If you really wanted that, you would do something commercial, why are you not doing something commercial?”

She says, “because I love dancing.”

I say, “See!”

She says, “I believe (dancing) it’s a way I can communicate. It’s the best way I can communicate.”

I say, “That’s not manipulative. You give something you love in the way you love. It’s you giving something.”

She laughs 

I continue, “You need to do something to engage the audience, but that’s not where the work comes from, it comes from you loving dance.”

She says, “You can be a great dancer and a terrible performer. I learned how to perform from Andrew Morrish. He’s a great performer and a great teacher of performing. It’s about the audience. It’s about your connection to the audience. That’s the most important thing for him. I’ve learned a lot from that. There are two responsibilities: one is to my dancing, my material, my satisfaction artistically, the other one is to the audience, and they are both equally important. If I haven’t got the audience I have nothing to offer. If I’m the only one knowing what I do, I have no communication. I still think it’s very manipulative.”

I say, “It’s the wrong term. Manipulative is cheap tricks.”

She says, “I do cheap tricks.”

I say, “I don’t believe you.” 

There is no artifice in Rosalind Crisp, no aloofness, no pretension. I do not believe that her work could be anything other than a heartfelt and honest attempt at challenging herself and the audience in the most radical way. It is a work of love.

The Radical Freedom of Rosalind Crisp – Interviewed by Eva Marloes

Rosalind Crisp, a world-renown dancer and choreographer, is at Chapter Arts Centre preparing for her performance Unwrapping Danse. She is originally from Australia, where she is active in raising awareness on the environmental catastrophe of the deforestation of the bushes. She divides her time between Australia and Europe, especially France where she has been awarded the highest recognition in the country as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. She is generous with her time and allows us to have a long discussion on her approach to dance.   

Crisp’s approach to dance is a radical awareness of one’s body and one’s movement. It requires rigorous and lengthy training to undo what the body has learned over the years. All our bodies learn movement, which becomes habitual and unchallenged. Some of us find themselves stuck with bad posture, shallow breathing, or stiff muscles. It takes training to undo the bad habits. For dancers, it is the dance training that becomes habitual and impedes development artistically but also personally. A culture of dancing as perfecting a technique means the dancer will never be good enough. It is a culture of lack.

Crisp explains,

“the training in dance is part of the education paradigm we know in schools where you’re constantly trying to get better, not quite good enough, even when you get really good. … Classical ballet which is where I started is really embedded in that culture of lack, you’re always in a relationship of lack. You never actually get there. This has huge impact on the identity of the dancer. It’s very hard to find your way in dance because it’s uncomfortable and people who dance feel insecure because they’re not good enough. … I think it was partly to do with dealing with that, that turned me away from set movements.” 

Crisp focuses on paying close attention to what the body does without us being conscious of it. She is interested in the dancers’ attention to their own bodies and their decision-making in how they choose the next movement. She began with herself, observing and challenging her movements and how she chose movements. She says,

“I trained myself to pay attention. The training is in the attention to where things are emerging in the body, what’s already emerging, especially in the beginning of movement,” she moves her arm as she says so. She says, “I’m more and more interested in what produces a movement than the movement itself.”

I suggest that it’s a bit like meditation. It’s a ‘mindful movement.’

“Paying attention,” Crisp says, “It’s not natural movement. It’s two things: it’s a lot of rigorous work of what compositional choices are available, how fast that moves, how much tension or tone is in that, how much space, which body parts are involved and which aren’t.”

Crisp wanted to shake off the history of dance training, which establishes patterns of movements in the body of dancers. 

She says,

“They start to do this movement and you know where it’s gonna go. It’s gonna go to there because the body remembers, like I know how to pick up a sandwich and eat it. … There’s a lot of alertness to the decision-making that is historical or embedded and unquestioned. There’s a constant kind of negotiation. Sometimes that needs softness and support because it’s a very strong, you said that before, mind…?”

“Mindful,” I say, “like in meditation. When you meditate you observe the thoughts in your mind and become aware of them and their patterns.” She tells me,

“it’s about degrees of awakeness to the potential for any part of the body anytime to initiate [movement].”

Then she says something beautiful. She says,

“I think the body is an orchestra not an instrument. Every bit has the capacity to being engaged and they all need to be on standby all the time.” Making the body an orchestra requires paying attention. It’s not letting go, but rigorous observation and training.”

She says,

“It’s not natural movement. It’s two things: it’s a lot of rigorous work of what compositional choices are available, how fast that moves, how much tension or tone is in that, how much space, which body parts are involved and which aren’t.”

She tells me that she tries to put her choreographic mind in the background so that she can pay attention to what’s emerging in the body. She says,

“There’s a sort of decolonising the choreography’s dominance telling the dancer what to do, my choreography. I try to reverse it.”

I suggest that it is a form of authenticity, an awareness of conditioning and the search for something of value. She is not having it. It’s all trickery, she says, but to me her effort to become deeply aware of the body and learned movement resonates with existentialist philosophy and Crisp herself is strikingly authentic. However, I’m conscious that authenticity in performance is associated with the semi-therapeutic and spiritual dramaturgy of Grotowski in theatre and the Authentic Movement in dance. Crisp’s dancing does not aim to be therapeutic or spiritual; rather it is in some way heuristic.

It all began with dancing, just dancing without following set movements. She says,

“dancing, not trying to remember steps but dancing and it was out of years and years of dancing in the studio on my own that I started to be able to notice times when I was having so much fun and it felt like it was like opening a whole world and a new kind of thing.”

Crisp’s approach to dancing is genuinely open. It is radical freedom.

(First published on Groundwork Pro)

The Soul of Dance – Reflecting on Dance with NDCW – by Eva Marloes

Dance is personal. It is your muscles, your injuries, your sweat, your discipline, and your imagination. Professional dance is not just technique, physical ability, and rhythmic sense; it is the dancer’s personality, which is in their bodies and in their minds. What emerges from talking to dancers and choreographers is the personal work of dance. Dancers do not simply replicate established movements for the audience, they bring their individuality to a piece in how their body moves and how they give an interpretation of their role, sometimes that includes creating their own movements.  

Contemporary dance is often an exploration of movement and physicality that begins with an awareness of one’s body. Dancers learn about their body, how their body is in space, the different places where the body can be, the learned and habitual moves, and how to become aware of how they move. Dance is born of physical and mental awareness. It rests on deep knowledge of one’s body in space and in movement, and making decisions on how to move. 

I watch dancers and see how different they are. They have different builds, different ways of moving, but, above all, different personalities that become prominent when they dance. Aisha Naamani, one of the dancers of the National Dance Company Wales (NDCW), tells me, ‘Everybody has a different quality in movement because everybody has a different way of processing information.’ NDCW dancers do a lot of ‘rep work,’ work of different choreographers coming for a short time for a production. That means dancers need to take on different outfits rather than develop their own work. However, for Roots, each piece relied on improvisation and collaboration between choreographers and dancers.  

Naamani, referring to Ed Myhill’s piece Why Are People Clapping?, part of Roots, tells me,

‘We had to create our own movement, we have to do that as naturally and thoughtfully but also not attached to it, not tied down to what you want to do. … You have your individuality doing what your body would do, but then Ed would come and see it and rearrange the puzzle somewhere. But you always keep that essence of your own individuality because that’s where you create it from.’  

The interplay between the individual dancer and the group is evident in the piece itself. During the rehearsals, Myhill tells the dancers that it’s about 

‘Appreciating individuals and what they bring to the circle. The rhythm is set up by your colleagues, your friends. They are there to support you, use it as a drive to express yourself.’ 

As the dancers become familiar with one another and how others move, they are able to support one another. Fearghus Ó Conchúir, the Artistic Director of NDCW, realised that the coming together as a team and mutual support in rugby are familiar to dancers. In his piece Rygbi, the way in which dancers relate to one another is most evident in improvisation. He tells me,

‘You don’t need to offer support if it’s all decided already. You just need to be in your place. Active support comes from not knowing what is going to happen and being ready for whatever it is and we built that kind of improvisation into the work. We continue to work with improvisation to keep the work alive.’ 

Ó Conchúir explains that he has questions in mind and gives structure to the piece, but that

‘The dancers are the ones who inhabit it and take an idea, for me the reason to collaborate is because I’m not someone who decides what the work is in my head in advance and then want to see it just played out in front of me. … I want to be surprised by the process, otherwise it’s not enriching. I don’t learn anything. The reason to be engaged in this artistic practice is to keep learning things.’ 

Yet, this work of improvisation rests on dancers offering something that comes from their own self, their own body, something that at times can be very personal, and is not always accepted. Naamani tells me that that can be hard,

‘Because you can offer something to a choreographer, it’s almost as if you put your heart out to them and you’re being really vulnerable, but it’s not a personal thing, it’s what is necessary at that time. That’s a really hard thing. It’s long hours, it’s busy, constant re-evaluating what you’re doing, constant thoughts. You have to be very strong so you get very strong but you also, you have to be vulnerable at the same time, it’s a hard balance.’   

Ó Conchúir is well aware of the personal gift that dancers give to a choreographer. He says,

‘Sometimes you’ll say ‘ok, no’, sometimes when someone offers a thing, you’ll ‘oh no, thank you for offering that, that is a possibility, but that’s made it clear to me that we need to stay over here or sometimes you’re like ‘oh, you’re right, let’s go off on that route’. Even when you’re not, because you can’t necessarily follow everything that’s offered, then that helps clarify what you’re choosing to do. For me that collaboration with the dancers is essential and then hopefully that makes it a more interesting and engaging process for them, because they’re helping the creation and give it life. For me that’s the most important thing, that the dancers are engaged. In the moment of performance is them, they’re performing it with the audience. What I’m trying to do is to help prepare everyone for that encounter.’ 

Dance entails being vulnerable and giving themselves to others. Those others are your colleagues, the choreographer, and the audience. Talented dancers and those who gain notoriety might be led astray by their ego, but the soul of dance lies in humility and devotion. 

NDCWales latest production Roots is currently touring. Further information and tickets can be purchased here.

Sweat Baby Sweat, Jan Martens – a comment by Eva Marloes

Jan Martens’ Sweat Baby Sweat is a minimalist, slow, and stretchy take on love relationships in dance form. At the beginning, the duo (Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel) become entangled, as in a yoga pose. The movement is minimal. They become one body turning on itself. It reminded me of Plato’s Symposium where Aristophanes describes androgynous humans with four legs, four arms, and one head made of two faces, which were then split by Zeus in two. Thus, when one finds one’s soulmate one feels whole. 

Sweat Baby Sweat is a little less wholesome. The couple splits and then begins again with the same initial movement of the first section. Martens says that he wanted the audience to think that they were going to see the same movements again and then be relieved from the change. The change is a long and protracted kiss, which I found uncomfortable. I am rarely comfortable with displays of intimacy on stage or on screen. Yet, the kiss being slow and continuous becomes just an extension of the movement. It is not sexy or tender. 

The continuous movement trails the ups and downs of relationships, the closeness and distance. At one point, the woman clings desperately while the man pushes her away. Not something the women to whom I have spoken appreciated. It could have been reversed or repeated with the man clinging, or could have featured two dancers of the same sex, so to avoid the stereotype of clinging women and independent men. The male dancer then seeks the female dancer, but instead of leading to tenderness and intimacy, it leads to lustful copulation. I raised my eyebrows. 

Sweat Baby Sweat is problematic and yet engrossing. It holds the attention of the public for over an hour. It brings the audience close to the couple rather than performing to them. It is an intense performance. During the post-show talk, a member of the audience described it as ‘electric focus’. Kimmy Ligtvoet and Steven Michel show an impressive physicality, which explains the longevity of the piece, now in its eighth year running. Sweat Baby Sweat does not play to the public; it draws the public in. It is compelling, but a new direction is needed.

(First published on Groundwork Pro: https://groundworkpro.com/sweat-baby-sweat-jan-martens/)

Review Roots, National Dance Company Wales by Eva Marloes

Roots is an engaging, diverse, and emotional production that marries Welshness with contemporary dance and gives life to art that is accessible without compromise on quality. Roots is the biannual production by the National Dance Company that brings dance to audiences around the world and around Wales. It makes its way into venues with little technical equipment and space, in towns and villages around Wales, to bring dance to new audiences. Roots succeeds equally in introducing new audiences to dance and in delighting dance enthusiasts. 

This year’s production features four very different pieces from four choreographers at different stages in their career and artistic maturity. Écrit, choreographed and performed by Nikita Goile is an emotional dance recounting a conflictual love relationship executed beautifully. Goile, a budding choreographer, combines an elaborate work of hands, inspired by Indian Bharata Natyam dance, with her lover’s silouette behind a curtain, and a more traditional duet form. It is effective in conveying the power imbalance between the two lovers, the hurt, and the closeness. The only weakness of the piece comes from its inspiration: the letters of Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera. Although they both had other lovers, Kahlo suffered from Rivera’s numerous affairs. In Écrit, Goile’s graceful and gentle movements do not capture the intensity of Kahlo. Having suffered from polio, Kahlo had very weak legs, underwent many surgeries, and had miscarriages. Kahlo’s suffering body was the source of her art and Kahlo used her body to reinterpret her MexicanidadÉcrit is at its strongest when Kahlo is forgotten and Goile is herself. Goile conveys a nuanced fragility, which contrasts with the powerful gestures and movements of Moronfoluwa Odimayo as her dominating lover. It is effective and moving. 

The second piece, Why Are People Clapping? is also by a new choreographer, Ed Myhill. It is an entertaining and funny piece that conveys the joy of dancing to the rhythm of elaborate clapping. In contrasts with the intimate piece Écrit, Myhill’s Why Are People Clapping? plays to the audience and for the audience. It begins with a tennis match with no actual balls or rackets, conveyed by only a single clap and well-timed movement. It is all so well tuned that you can almost see the ball hit the racket. The piece includes dancers in a semicircle taking turns to do and enjoy a solo to Steve Reich’s clapping music, followed by claps that bring order and dictate action, a catwalk, and a run through as many facial expressions as possible. I would have liked the tennis players in 1970s headbands and wristbands for a replay of Borg v. McEnroe, but Clapping oozes fun anyway.  

The third piece, Codi (rise up) is by emerging choreographer Anthony Matsena, who is finding his voice in a socially and politically aware dance infused with energy. Codi takes the audience underground, into the mines of the Welsh Valleys. There is a sense of suffocation, isolation, struggle, and helplessness. The small headtorches the dancers wear around their necks are used effectively to convey the darkness of suffering, of perishing, of being forgotten. Then, they rise up. They beat wooden rods to the ground and the energy rushes through the body. There is power in being together. Together, we can rise up. When I interviewed Matsena, he told me that once you recover, you still have the past hurt with you, like a ‘stain on the shirt.’ With soot on their clothes and faces, the dancers face the audience calling for attention. The past is not forgotten; it is there to give strength and purpose. 

Roots concludes with the longer piece Rygbi. Annwyl i mi, by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, the Artistic Director of NDC Wales. Rygbi captures the passion and synergy of players and fans of the game, which ripple across the whole of society in Wales. It is the national game that takes over cities altering time, colouring the pavements with people in red shirts, and getting us stuck in traffic. Rygbi does not borrow movements from the game, it extracts the essence of rugby and gives it a new form. The piece alternates duets, ensembles, and solos to guide us through effort, injuries, fatigue, hopes, victories, and defeats. The dancers-players touch one another and in that touch is being part of a whole, something bigger than oneself, that is made of each one’s individuality. Dancers, like players, rely on one another, know what the other can do, is likely to do, the other’s weaknesses and strengths. Like players, they create together. Rygbi is elegant and strong. It is a painting and it is theatre. Ó Conchúir takes us onto the pitch with colour, movement, and music. He makes us breathe the tension of the competition, feel the strain of the muscles, and sense the elation of victory. Rygbi uses the language of dance expertly to tap into our emotions, thoughts, and ideals, and creates a moment of shared passion and commitment. 

Roots is currently on tour. More information can be found here.

To Speak of Wales in Dance by Eva Marloes

Back from its recent international tour, National Dance Company Wales (NDCW) is now bringing contemporary dance across Wales with this year’s production of Roots. Two of the pieces, Rygbi: Annwyl i mi by Feargus Ó Conchúir and Codi by Anthony Matsena (who grew up in Swansea) explicitly reference Welsh culture and society.

Anthony Matsena

Rygbi portrays the shared effort of rugby players on the pitch, in triumph and defeat, while Codi (meaning uplift) explores how mutual support can lift up communities that have been suffering from economic and social deprivation.

The Roots tour aims to be understandable to audiences across Wales; yet it is not an exercise in pleasing an audience with familiar themes and symbolism. It speaks of Wales in the language of dance from the richness of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of NDCWales choreographers and dancers.

Feargus Ó Conchúir 

NDCWales Artistic Director, Feargus Ó Conchúir, brought up in the Ring Gaeltacht in Ireland, heads dancers and choreographers from Wales, England, mainland Europe and Singapore. In the companies recent international tour, they represented Welsh contemporary dance in Japan during the Rugby World Cup.

During its Welsh tour, Roots gets to the heart of Wales geographically, emotionally, and culturally. With performances in Mold, Cardiff, Blackwood, Ystradgynlais, Narberth, Aberdyfi, Caernafon, and Pwllheli, NDCWales shows a commitment to bring dance to diverse audiences in sometimes very small venues and confronting technical challenges. 

Aisha Naamani

Aisha Naamani, a Welsh and Lebanese dancer with NDCWales, tells me how important Roots is for her, ‘it’s my favourite tour because you go to these small places and even if its not a large audience, it’s hard, but they go away with a brand new experience.’ Ó Conchúir’s piece Rygbi was first performed at the Eisteddfod. This is the first time NDCWales has done so. It has brought dance to a new audience. Aisha told me, ‘I’ve never performed in front of so many different people … We’ve had more of a turnout of men coming to watch the show and people genuinely stopped and watched … We spoke to many people about the piece itself.’

By taking contemporary dance out of the studio and bringing it outdoors and in small venues across Wales, NDCWales is at the forefront of making and sharing Welsh culture and identity. It challenges monolithic views of Wales and articulates a Welsh culture that is at once rural and urban, local and cosmopolitan, and, above all, enriched by diversity. Cultural identity is a conversation, always changing and always carried out by different people. Fearghus Ó Conchúir tells me, ‘national identity is something that is constantly being created and recreated; it’s not something that exists and you reflect or don’t reflect. So for me our role as the National Dance Company is to be part of the conversation that continues to define and redefine what national identity is.’

Like dance, an identity is fruit of collaboration, of individuals giving their own interpretation, and of the public being part of that conversation. So national identity is constructed by people who imagine and reimagine a place and a culture. For Ó Conchúir, ‘Welsh identity is defined by people who are born here and have left, people who are born here and stay, the ones who have just arrived, the ones who are passing through, we all make a place, even people who have never been here and we are thinking about Wales and are helping to imagine Welsh identity.’ 

The work of interpretation of Welsh culture by artists shows that there isn’t a single unchanging identity, to which one needs to be loyal. There is no homogeneous and authentic Welsh culture, but a range of identities within Wales and making Wales. Ó Conchúir tells me, ‘there are all kinds of people living in Pwllheli. … If I had assumed that where I grew up in Ireland, which was an Irish-speaking area, with a very strong traditional culture. If everyone assumed that that was the only thing that applied there, then I wouldn’t have found a route to where I am now.’ 

Ó Conchúir, who studied ancient Irish literature, tells me that, in the ancient Irish myths, people moved continuously between Ireland and Wales. They were ‘popping over, like we go over to Newport, they go over and consult A seer or something or they go and see a warrior and come back, it just, reminds me that mobility and exchange and mixing has always been happening.’ 

It is in the mixing where art happens. Contemporary dance incorporates movements from different sources, be they different dance styles, sport, martial arts, everyday movements, and gives it a shape to explore what it means to be human. Contemporary dance is a plurality of styles, languages of movements, and inspirations held together by a shared structure. The dance emerges from the synergy of disparate elements, from dancers expressing their individuality while also making space for others, and from pushing physical and symbolical boundaries. Contemporary dance holds difference and is made through difference. It is the perfect metaphor and embodiment for those aspiring to a pluralistic country.